UNION – Ailing with leukemia, Basil Brown still managed to put in a new garden plot this spring, with help from his grandson and great-grandson.

“They did that together. That was his last project,” said his daughter, Bonnie Packard of Union.

Mr. Brown, who died Friday at the age of 80, was known for his incredible gardening skills, his gentle disposition, his sense of civic duty and his love of nature.

He was born in Union and grew up in the Great Depression, the oldest of five children.

As a boy, he took care of his brothers and sisters while his parents worked. His mother baked 20 pies a day for a nearby girls camp, and Mr. Brown was in charge of herding his siblings to the blueberry fields to pick the fruit for those pies.

They spent hours collecting the berries in buckets. On their way home one day, Mr. Brown’s siblings begged him to let them stop for a swim. They returned to their buckets and found that a cow had gobbled up all of the blueberries. Mr. Brown marched them all back to pick more berries.

“He was a 10-year-old with this strong sense of responsibility,” said his son Scott Brown.

Mr. Brown took his commitments seriously. He started his own carpentry business in 1954 and worked as a rural mail carrier at the Union post office for 42 years. His job as a caretaker on the Crawford Lake Farm lasted for 56 years, until his death.

He served in local government positions, including the school board for 34 years and the planning board for 11 years. He was clerk, secretary and treasurer for the East Union Cemetery Association for 31 years. He was a life member of the Union Fire Department, the Masonic Lodge 31 of Union and the Elks Lodge 1008 of Rockland.

He and his wife, Olive, got married two weeks after his 17th birthday and celebrated their 63rd wedding anniversary last fall.

“We just clicked,” said his wife.

His children say they grew up in a house that was like a 1950s TV family sit-com.

“It was almost too perfect. We never, ever saw our parents argue or fight. My father would come home and hug my mom and kiss her. It was a perfect marriage,” said Scott Brown.

The family described Mr. Brown as incredibly bright, with an IQ of 168, although his education stopped at high school.

His daughter said he was easy to talk to and very kind, so their mother was the disciplinarian of the family.

Packard said the only time she could remember her father getting angry was when she did something particularly naughty at a family gathering. She figured that, finally, she would probably get a spanking from her father, so she prepared by slipping a book down her slacks, she said.

“When he discovered the book was there, he got to laughing so hard” he never got around to the spanking, she said.

He also loved being outdoors and tending his extensive vegetable gardens and greenhouse. His tomatoes were in particular demand. Some of his friends dubbed him “the tomato whisperer,” and people would beg him for the secret to growing such tasty tomatoes.

“He told me he would embellish it a bit so it sounded special. But he said to me, ‘I just do pretty much what everyone else does,’” said his daughter.

Although he managed to finish the garden plot, there wasn’t time to plant anything in it this spring. So his family is asking any friends who have spare plants or shrubs to bring them to the new plot.

“It is a way to keep him in our thoughts,” said his daughter.


Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at: [email protected]